Young Ethiopian migrant "returnees" have recounted the horrors they endured on their fruitless journeys in search of a better life in the Gulf states. The horrors included starvation, torture, and robbery on what is known as the "Eastern Route".
Most of the migrants say they had left Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country because they had no livelihood. They wanted to desperately change their lives for the better but instead got stuck in a cycle of horror.
"I was imprisoned, and beaten for money, I have a scar on my back which has lasted five months now. They tortured my friends with heated metal" says Abu Gizaw Assefaw.
Although the majority of those taking the Eastern Route are men, the number of women doubled to 106,700 in 2022, according to the International Organization of Migration (IOM). One of them is Eighteen-year-old Neyima Mohammed who was desperate to go to Saudi Arabia to make money after the failure of her small business selling groceries.
"Many of our friends died on the road and a boat sank and many drowned in the sea" says Mohammed. "After we crossed the sea, in Yemen, we had a car accident. Many of our friends were injured and many lost their lives. We laid them on the road because there was no cemetery. Vultures preyed on their dead bodies."
She and her friends had been passed from one trafficker to another after they started out from their hometown of Silte in southern Ethiopia. She also said they encountered many thieves who beat the men and stole their money.
"There was starvation, thirst," she said. After horror after horror on the journey, Mohammed eventually gave up.
Came back empty-handed'
Shamsadin Awol, 20, said if he had known what trials and tribulations awaited him on the route to Saudi Arabia, he would never have left his home in eastern Ethiopia.
Smugglers took him to Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway Somali region of Somaliland, then to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
"You must pay to continue the journey, you can't even travel for five minutes if you don't pay," he said.
"I received 275,000 birr (almost $5,000) throughout my journey but spent it in vain. I used up everything and came back empty-handed."
The Eastern route is described by the IOM as "one of the most dangerous and complex human migratory routes in Africa and the world".